Flashbulb’s Trailmakers channels the spirit of Max and the Magic Marker

Katharine Byrne
Flashbulb’s Trailmakers channels the spirit of Max and the Magic Marker

The former Microsoft studio that brought us Max and the Magic Marker, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Kalimba is bringing its latest game Trailmakers to PC and consoles next year. Flashbulb Games, previously Press Play, will be releasing its physics-based vehicle-building sandbox on Steam Early Access in December, before bringing the title to Xbox One, PS4 and PC in summer 2018. 

However, despite only forming the new studio in April last year following Microsoft's string of in-house closures (including UK stalwarts Lionhead), art director Lasse Outzen has told MCV that the origins of the game stretch all the way back to the very early days of Press Play.

"Some would say it started with Project Karoo," he said, alluding to a very similar-looking physics-based multiplayer construction game that was announced back in August 2015 as one of three titles the studio asked fans to vote on to decide its next game (see the trailer below).

"But it really started earlier than that. I used to be part of Press Play way back in the day for around ten years when we had that studio, and we actually made a 2D Flash game that had many of the same components that Trailmakers does.

"You had a little brother and you were trying to send him flying in different ways, so you built bikes with jet engines, or dumpsters with propellers to try and make it fly. We made that a long time ago, and then really wanted to make that kind of open-ended gameplay. We also made Max and the Magic Marker and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, where the solutions are as open as we could make them. We love that kind of gameplay and are just trying to celebrate that in Trailmakers."

Trailmakers won't simply be about accumulating multiple upgrades, though, as many obstacles will require players to completely rebuild their vehicles from scratch. 

"It's not a linear progression for your vehicle," marketing director Emil Stidsholt added. "It's not like, 'Now it's a bit better so I can get to this place.' The solutions are always up to your interpretation – a bit like Max [and the Magic Marker], you just build something. We don’t tell you what to build; we just say 'That's where you need to go.'"

"If you get to a place where there are a lot of jumps, you'll have to create a car that can make those jumps," Outzen explains. "If you get to another place where the ground's on fire, you'll need something that doesn't require wheels like a hovercraft."

Players will be able to change their vehicle on the fly thanks to Trailmakers' easy-to-use building tools

Indeed, Stidsholt told us that "the destruction is just as important as the construction" in Trailmakers, and "the idea that things can fall apart is vital in this game. It's something that we're missing in a lot of vehicle construction games."

Crucially, players will also have to sacrifice engines in order to save their game. "Life's too short for one engine," said Stidsholt. "We're constantly trying to keep adjusting the balance – we take something away from the player so they don't just accumulate more blocks. We need to create a system where you also have to sacrifice something sometimes." 

Right now, the game has approximately twenty different blocks that players can snap onto their vehicles, ranging from jet engines and wings to suspensions and various kinds of wheels. For Stidsholt, however, that's just a small taste of what's to come.

"That's nothing compared to what we plan to make," he said. "Even with just a couple more blocks, people will be able to build thousands more vehicles. We're hoping that some of the challenges will spark people's creativity, and we have all kinds of ideas about how the environment will challenge you, including different surfaces, weather effects and wild life etc." 

Trailmakers will have multiplayer support, a challenge mode and a level editor that lets players put props in the world to create their own mini-games

The game has been a hit so far with its early alpha testers, Stidsholt told us: "We did this tiny alpha demo course and gave it out to some alpha testers just to get an idea if people would respond well to an open world campaign where you have to figure out your own solutions by engineering, and people liked it," he said.

"There are some pretty simple obstacles in our Gamescom build, mostly jumps, but we figured people could build something to get past them. But as well as just jumping over the body of water, we found people also chose to float over it, as the wheels have a bit of buoyancy in them, so they just strapped wheels all around the car and floated over. The solutions are pretty open-ended. You can drive across, fly across, float across, whatever you want." 

The destruction is just as important as the construction. The idea that things can fall apart is vital in this game, and it's something that we're missing in a lot of vehicle construction games. 

Needless to say, it's heartening to see some of the remnants of Project Karoo finally make their way to release, but we were pleased to learn that another of Press Play's trio of abandoned titles, the action fantasy-based Project Dwarka, is also approaching the final stages of development.

"In fact, the only one that isn't being worked on right now is the one that won [the vote], Project Knoxville," Stidsholt told us. "I mean, Microsoft closed the studio and abandoned everything, and we said we'd like to keep working on the project that we actually liked the best ourselves. And then another team said, 'Okay, we'd really like to work on the dwarf mining game' – that's in the Swedish Booth here at Gamescom – a whole group of people are working on that now. So now both are in development and are getting closer to release." 

Sadly, though, with the recent iOS port of Kalimba having now hit the Apple App Store, Stidsholt told us "we probably won't be working on [more] Kalimba any time soon."

Trailmakers goes into Early Access this December and you can see the game in action below: 

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